FORT WAYNE – Two of the top young big men in the Big Ten meet in Bloomington tonight.
Indiana freshman Cody Zeller leads the No. 23 Hoosiers against sophomore Meyers Leonard and Illinois. The game begins at 8 p.m.
If there is one common theme, Indiana coach Tom Crean said during Monday’s Big Ten teleconference, they are both pretty skilled for their size.
The 6-foot-11, 230-pound Zeller leads IU in scoring (15.1) and rebounding (6.4). He is first in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage (64.9 percent).
The 7-1, 245-pound Leonard is averaging 13.3 points and 8 rebounds (third in the Big Ten). He is also third in field-goal percentage (58.2 percent).
Both of them have good mobility for big men, Illinois coach Bruce Weber said during the teleconference. They can run the court. They can move. They are not plodders or guys that are stuck to the block. They can go from the outside to the inside, back to the outside, with pretty good efficiency and run the court. They have pretty good skills and good hands, and that’s important for big guys. They’ve both had some very good games and like a lot of big guys learning, they’ll have their days where it’s not so good. It will be a good matchup.
The thing we’ve found, if people let him go one on one, they are pretty successful. People do different things differently now and they have to adjust. That’s the key to having consistency as a young player, learning to adjust to other teams.
Leonard scored 21 points on 10-of-12 shooting in Sunday’s loss to Northwestern and had nine rebounds. Leonard has reached double figures in scoring in five of the last six games and has had at least nine rebounds in three of Illinois’ last four games.
(He is) understanding what a 7-footer has to do and how he has to play and learning how to post up and feel, Weber said. All those things, be a factor on defense. And he still comes and goes. He had some good moments (against Northwestern) and some other moments where he’s watching the game.
That’s the thing we’ve talked about, participating in every possession, be a factor and not watch the game, and he’s made those strides. The biggest thing is learning how to be a 7-footer and use his body.
Zeller has scored in double figures in 10 of the last 11 games.
The battle in the post is just one matchup worth watching as Indiana (18-6, 6-6 Big Ten) tries to build off Saturday’s win at Purdue. Illinois (16-7, 5-5) has lost four out of five. The only win came against Michigan State.
We have a lot of respect for how (Leonard) plays. But I’m not good with comparisons on that, Crean said. The game comes down to how Indiana plays versus Illinois. That’s the biggest thing to me.